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Summary:

There’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence already offered that Maps needs work — at times location data is missing or directions were wrong. But on more than one occasion Maps have led users astray because of the user-sourced business information that Apple is using from Yelp.

See that red pin? That's the actual location of Hotel Abri. But Yelp places it a block and half further west on Apple Maps.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has already apologized for the problems associated with the company’s Maps app but missed is one of the flaws that impacts real-world usability: the integration with Yelp. Apple Maps, like Siri, uses Yelp to find some types of businesses. It’s a partnership that Apple has highlighted, but one that needs more scrutiny.

There’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence already offered that Maps needs work — at times location data is missing or directions were wrong. But on more than one occasion Maps have led users astray because of the user-sourced business information that Apple is using from Yelp.

For instance, a Maps search for Napa Auto Parts in San Carlos, Calif. finds the location at 560 El Camino Real. Maps shows the location has 13 reviews from Yelp. Now, that may have actually been an automotive supply store at some point, but as of this week it’s a restaurant serving wood-fired pizza. Yelp — and Maps — however, still think it’s a Napa Auto Parts. In another example, a recent search for Hotel Abri in downtown San Francisco places it a block and a half from where the hotel is actually located, as you can see in the photo.

See that red pin? That’s the actual location of Hotel Abri. But Yelp places it a block and half further west on Apple Maps.

Yelp is a great way to find out about local businesses, especially restaurants. As a business owner I manage a Yelp page. Something important to know about it is that venue data can be added by any Yelp user, while Google, by comparison, requires verification by a business owner to confirm the location.

I experienced this first-hand at my business: Yelp added my business without confirmation. Yelp’s user-based approach can lead to multiple venues entered, prospective businesses that add data but never open, and businesses that are closed but never get removed from Yelp. This is a problem that check-in service Foursquare often faces, but Foursquare’s process includes “SuperUsers” who volunteer to keep the data clean and tidy. (Disclosure: I am a Foursquare Superuser.)

Yelp lets anyone add businesses without verification of accuracy, but most of Yelp’s information is “curated,” rather than crowdsourced like Google’s (and Google’s integration of Zagat). Community managers who work for Yelp are primarily responsible for the management of duplicate venues.

A good example, shown below, showing this issue occurred when I searched both Yelp and Google Maps in a browser for an Italian restaurant nearby in my neighborhood in Lawrence, Kan. Yelp’s results showed me one venue that was closed (Cupinis), one venue that was never opened (Fat Tony’s) and one duplicate venue (Genovese). Google’s results had no duplicates. One venue was closed (Pizza Hut) but that business had just recently changed hands. If I were looking for Italian, I’d be sorely disappointed with Yelp.

Google Maps results for Italian dining in Lawrence

Yelp’s results for Italian dining in Lawrence

Additionally, Yelp favors reviews by “Elites” over the reviews of regular users, and Yelp’s undisclosed “filter” algorithms determine what reviews you actually see. On the iOS 6 Maps app as well as the Yelp app, users cannot view these filtered reviews and may be missing key reviews. For example, the Squeeze In Restaurant, a local diner in Reno, Nev. The Squeeze In currently has 70 visible reviews but there are 127 filtered reviews you can’t see from iOS Maps. These are usually not “spam” reviews, but valid reviews from real customers that Yelp arbitrarily removes.

Even my own business has 80 percent of its reviews filtered. For the true review results, you’ll need to load the Yelp site in Safari and fill out a captcha (they make you work to see these reviews). When searching, I’d like to make the decision as to which reviews are relevent, and I don’t need Yelp’s biashiding data from me. A map app that removes a significant portion of the point-of-interest data is not a map I can rely on.

Apple and Yelp did not respond to a request for comment.

Tim Cook has said, “The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get.” Yelp’s quirky curation approach with hidden reviews and out-of-date venues will continue to degrade search results and map quality and more customer use won’t fix that problem. Hopefully Apple can work with Yelp for more accurate business listings and reviews in the future as they continue to fix and enhance Maps.

  1. Alan Weinkrantz Friday, November 2, 2012

    I agree. Apple should not depend on Yelp for Mapping out and locating businesses and for Point of Interest listings. Instead, Apple Maps should only use Yelp to display reviews of businesses and Point-of-Interests listings from Apple’s own POI database.

    This is another example of the confusing reason why Apple dropped Google so that it wouldn’t be dependent on a 3rd party for something as critical as Maps. And yet Apple is dependent on an even worse 3rd party – Yelp and TomTom.

    Why Apple? Apple needs to stick to it’s guns. If Apple wants to be in control, then be in control and make it’s on POI database and Map cartography.

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    1. What do you think about allowing a user to set a preference such as Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor etc?

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  2. It is unfortunate that Apple chose to diminish its reputation by using Yelp. The complaints the author makes regarding Yelp practices are valid and widely known throughout the small business community. I suspect Apple shall come to regret what was an obvious lack of due diligence prior to having the Apple brand tarnished by Yelp.

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    1. It is well known unfortunately and thanks for sharing your perspective

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  3. Gustavo Estrella Friday, November 2, 2012

    I love the Yelp integration just for restaurants – all else they are not as useful. However, twice has been impacted by this ! Forces me to search on a browser on a map before I trust it as otherwise end up driving around several blocks looking for the right address

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  4. Your article was timely and complete. Google tried using computer assisted POI mapping back in the day. They learned all to quickly and painfully….that the only way to have reliable useful maps was through physical verification. It is time consuming and costly. But it pays off. You do a search for something and if it has a physical location a map shows up with your search. You do a map search and information about the physical site will appear. Google Maps POIs are the best bar none. Certainly better than my Garmin…which is not that bad. Is Google Maps perfect, no. But it is one of the best map solutions out there. And to Google’s credit…continues to improve…almost weekly.

    An inferior map component will only continue to degrade the Apple experience. This is one time they need to work out a deal with Google…..and move on. Focus on the doing the things they do best…better. And return to innovating. We need that from Apple. And for God’s sake give up these frivolous law suits. The Courts are beginning sort them out. And for the most part the depth of their value is like the Platt river….a mile wide and inch deep.

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  5. David Michael Friday, November 2, 2012

    After updating to the iOS, we went on a trip to Chico. I tried to use Apple Maps to drive from our hotel to Chico State University. About 12 different flags popped up. Do they let anyone drop a pin to mark a location? Next, we used Apple Maps to locate the Sierra Nevada Brewery. According to Apple Maps, it was near the airport. After driving 15 minutes out of our way, we did a Google search to learn that we were heading in the exact opposite direction, and the brewery is nowhere near the airport. I think the problems go a lot deeper than Yelp integration. It’s a problem, since the map application is the one I use the most, and I’ve had the iphone since they first came out.

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    1. “Do they let anyone drop a pin to mark a location?” Yelp does.

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  6. Suresh Chanmugam Friday, November 2, 2012

    I disagree. Searching for a restaurant by name is one of the most common reasons I use the Maps app on my iPhone. I find that Google’s data is often out of date; it’s hard to find businesses that have opened recently. I read a review of a new diner in Seattle called Square Knot a couple of weeks ago and decided to go there for dinner. It did not show up on the Google-powered iPhone Maps app. I had specifically held off on upgrading to iOS 6 because of the negative reviews about the new Apple powered Apps. I had to search for it in the Yelp app and then launch Maps from the Yelp app to navigate to the diner. Frustrated by my experience, I upgraded to iOS the next morning. Thanks to its crowdsourced data, Yelp already had Square Knot in its database and it comes up as the first and only search result in iOS 6 Maps. I checked back today – Square Knot diner has been open for months with 36 reviews on Yelp – and still doesn’t show up in Google Maps.

    I regret listening to the pundits and delaying upgrading to iOS 6.

    I do not regret eating a slice of homemade blackberry pie at the Square Knot diner for dessert even though I’d already wolfed down eggs benedict and hasbrowns :)

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    1. I smell Yelp elite here….

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      1. Suresh Chanmugam Saturday, November 3, 2012

        For the record – I’m not a Yelp elite, and I don’t like the smell of Y’Elite’s either. :)

        I’ve posted two reviews in my lifetime on Yelp and one was buried by their mysterious “filter”.

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    2. You bring up a good point. Crowdsourced data can be a blessing or a curse. Accuracy vs reliability.

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  7. Yeah, Yelp is pretty inaccurate when it comes to business locations. I was researching a business and Yelp said that it was located downtown so I drove to it. Turns out that it was a home-based business and that business had been trying to get yelp to change their location address for over a year now! If you want to learn more about the inaccuracies of yelp just google ‘yelp problems.’ Or go here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/28/yelp-reviews_n_985513.html. Yelp appears to be an extortion based business.

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    1. Good point about home based business (or business located at a UPS store type place). Google specifically disallows home based businesses or business with a mail stop only from being listed.

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  8. This may be true up to a point, but doesn’t explain, for instance, how Yelp entries validated in Australia through the company’s agreement with Yellow Pages show up incorrectly in Apple Maps.

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  9. Apple’s Maps need allot of work, and Yelp! doesn’t seem to help the situation at all.

    I’ve “Reported a Problem” since iOS 6 dropped.. at least once a week. Just today, my business just now showed up in Apple Maps, at the *wrong location*! (every “Report a Problem” I’ve submitted included the *correct location*)

    Apple already has the correct location info for my business as part of a vendor/partner database, that for some reason, they simply do not include in iOS 6 Map data..

    Yelp shows the correct map location on their site..

    What a f’in mess.

    Living in a tourist area, I know many people use their iOS devices to search for local businesses when visiting.. Wish Apple would give small business owners a better way to clear this up. There should be a “Business Portal” for business owners to manage their location data and track the updates.

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  10. Google doesn’t just rely on manual verification with the postcards. They will make a new listing or update existing business info if they see enough trusted citations for that business. It’s far from perfect, but they’ve been getting it right more often lately.

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  11. Well, turn-by-turn is very good, in Sweden at least, where I have tested it. But there is no help in Yelp. Neither is that part of TomTom which is supposed to know where to find f ex gas stations! That part was totally wrong, even when stationed in front of one I was directed to a gas station some 18 km away!
    But, at least now you can use Apple Maps for something, other than that occasional pleasure with street view in the Google maps. Even though I miss it a little, it is absolutely no game changer, just a little pleasure without much practicality.

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